Boston Fire Control Structures (FCSs): Types and Numbers
In the modern (WW2) era, fire control for the coast artillery defending Boston Harbor involved a network of 46 fire control structures (FCSs). Each of these FCSs contained one or more so-called base end stations that were designed to observe and report on the movements of enemy ships. This network of FCSs extended for about 75 miles along the Massachusetts coast (and across the Harbor Islands), from Gurnet Point (on Plymouth Bay) in the south to Plum Island (near the New Hampshire border) in the north.
An inventory conducted by the author in 2010 identified 27 of these FCSs that had survived to the present. [A different network of FCSs existed in the pre-WW2 period, many of them built between 1900 and 1920. However, because most of these structures were cheaply built of wood and plaster (with tarpaper roofs), almost all of them have deteriorated and been razed over the past 100 years or so.]
There are many different types of FCSs in the surviving WW2 era network. Two thirds (18) of the 27 "survivors" can be called fire control towers [see the Gallery at left, Slide 1]. These towers range in height from 2 to 10 stories. The tallest (neglecting the height of site) is the 10-story tower [Slide 2] at Gales Pt. in Manchester (which has recently been converted to 11 stories by enclosing its rooftop level). There are four 8-story towers: two at Nahant, one at Strawberry Point (Scituate), and one at Brant Rock (Marshfield). There is one 7-story tower (at Point Allerton), three 6-story, five 5-story, three with three stories, and one with two stories (the 1904 tower at Fort Andrews [Slide 3].
The rest of the surviving WW2-era FCSs, the shorter ones, are classified here as bunkers or cottages. What I call fire control bunkers were one- or two-level reinforced concrete structures, usually with footprints that were roughly 12 to14 ft. on a side. Some of these bunkers were built on the surface, like the west side bunker at Fort. Andrews [Slide 4] or the Site 3A "garage" bunker at Point Allerton [Slide 5]. Other bunkers were buried, like the CRF bunker at Fort Andrews [Slides 6 and 7], sometimes with only their vision slits and roofs showing above ground. Boston even has one "split level" bunker--a surface bunker with a second level protruding from its top [Slide 8]. And in some cases (e.g., at Fort Standish, or near Strawberry Hill in Hull) a concrete "bunker" was elevated above the ground on concrete pylons. The 6-inch gun batteries at Fourth Cliff and Outer Brewster Island featured concrete bunkers on top of the gun batteries themselves.
In describing FCSs, the Army did not use the term "bunker." The low-profile or buried FCSs were called "cottages" or "manholes." The term "cottage" is used on this website only to describe surface-built FCSs that actually looked like cottages, or low-profile surface-built buildings. I have found only one surviving bunker that I would call a "manhole"-- the Fort Andrews CRF bunker [Slides 6 and 7 again].
What I am calling a fire control cottage is typified by the structures on Strawberry Point in Scituate [one of which is detailed in Slides 9 through 11. Some of these cottages had a half-story "tower" or lookout extending from their single story. They usually had between one and 2.5 stories, and in one case (Site 2A at Point Allerton) had 3.5 stories.
I have called the final type of FCS the "tower in a house." This type features a three-story concrete tower "built into" (and camouflaged to look like) a wooden frame house, often with wooden crew quarters and command offices attached to it. Examples of such towers exist at Fourth Cliff in Marshfield [Slide 13], on Marblehead Neck [Slide 12], and at Eastern Point in Gloucester.
At the older harbor forts (viz,Standish, Strong and Warren) the only surviving parts of some pre-WW2 fire control structures are the concrete pylons that used to provide the mounting columns for the observing instruments, usually depression position finders (DPFs). These columns extended well under ground to provide a firm mounting point for the DPFs, and were built separate from their enclosing structures, which could be simple wood and plaster buildings with tarpaper roofs. Over time, these flimsy buildings collapsed, leaving behind the instrument pillars that can still be seen today [Slide 14].
Today, 12 of Boston's 27 surviving WW2-era FCSs (44%) are publicly owned. Most of these public sites are on the Boston Harbor Islands. Of the 15 structures that are privately owned, most (13) are towers, except for the two "cottages" at Strawberry Point in Hull. [Two pre-WW2 FSCs in Hull are also privately owned, one at Fort Revere and one at Strawberry Hill.] Of the 13 privately owned towers, the author has been inside six. At least three privately owned towers have been remodeled for all-season occupancy (with heat, lights, toilets, and kitchen facilities added), while the remaining 10 seem to be in largely original condition (with a few renovations to windows, roof access, and front doors). The unimproved privately owned towers that the author has visited have been stripped of almost all their internal fittings. Some of the fire control sites were leased by the government and returned to the original owners after WW2. Most often, these sites had been purchased by the govenment and were then declared surplus and sold off during the period 1946-1955 .
The federal government still owns two FCSs--the tower and cottage at Fourth Cliff in Marshfield. This site, which also features many surviving parts of Battery 208 (a WW2 battery with two 6-inch guns), is now used by the US Air Force as a recreation site for military personnel.
With a few exceptions, the surviving FCSs are not easily visitable by the public. [NOTE: The 5-story tower at Halibut Point is now a state park and museum and is open to the public.] For those on public lands, the governent agencies involved are generally too worried about public safety to open up the structures, many of which are steadily deteriorating. Some private owners are kind enough to admit occasional visitors. In most cases, these owners are largely unaware of the roles their structures played in coast defense. For example, most owners believe that their towers were used to "watch for submarines." (In fact, coastal sub hunting during WW2 was carried out by patrol boats and aircraft.)